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Spring 2004
Principals of Leadership
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MUCH OF WHAT IS TAUGHT AT PLI ties in with the school-administration approach that is advocated by one of the institute's noted faculty, William Ouchi, the Sanford and Betty Sigoloff Professor of Corporate Renewal in the Anderson School. In a highly regarded book published last year, Making Schools Work, Ouchi argues that for schools to succeed, more authority should be placed directly into the hands of school-site administrators.

After studying 223 public and Catholic schools in nine school systems in the United States and Canada, Ouchi concluded that "there was nothing wrong with the teachers, definitely nothing wrong with the students and there was enough money." The problem, he says, was that the school-management system was too centralized, too top-heavy, too bureaucratic, and "it was strangling initiative in the individual schools."

School systems, Ouchi says, aren't very different from large businesses with multiple subunits: Those businesses can only operate successfully if they decentralize decision-making but have a tight accountability framework. For Ouchi, the ideal school-management scenario is one where the principal is a "consultative leader," one who has final say but consults with the employees before making a decision. Most important, though, is for the individual school to have control over its own money so spending decisions can be tailored to meet the needs of the students in that school.

The notion seems simple enough — give principals control over their school's budget and let them make decisions based on their specific needs — but it's an idea that flies in the face of how schools have traditionally been run, with nearly 90 percent of individual school budgeting typically done at the district level.

"In most schools, salaries are about 85 percent of total spending," says Ouchi. While a school doesn't get to set salaries — that is done by the district — "the school needs to have control over those positions" and the salary money. "Some schools will want an extra music teacher and some will want an extra art teacher, and some other school may want a librarian who can perform administrative duties," he says. Allowing the school administrators to make those types of "micro-adjustments" can have a big impact on student achievement, he says.

Howard Lappin '61 offers an example of Ouchi's idea in action.

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